But the league still delivers. It could be a flick of Aaron Rodgers’s wrist or an idea from the deepest recesses of Sean Payton’s mind, the sudden acceleration of Lamar Jackson or Jalen Ramsey hurtling toward a ballcarrier. Week 7 had a little bit of it all, and here is what you need to know:
Rodgers and Matt LaFleur are figuring it out. And the result should cause alarm throughout the league. For the first six weeks, the Green Bay Packers rode their excellent defense as their offense found its rhythm in LaFleur’s system. The coexistence of Rodgers and LaFleur has been an ongoing subplot, and the success of their union will determine how far the Packers can go.
Sunday’s performance made their potential appear limitless. Rodgers threw for 429 yards and five touchdowns while running for another in Green Bay’s 42-24 destruction of the Oakland Raiders, punching up a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Rodgers said that it was the most complete game he has played and that he felt improvement, particularly with the timing of his throws.
“I feel like this has been coming,” he said. “I feel like we’ve been building. And I’ve been feeling a lot more comfortable, and Matt’s been feeling more comfortable, him calling it for me and feeling when I’m in that rhythm, when to be aggressive and when to pull back.”
At 6-1, the Packers are already in first place in the NFC North, and they were there even before Rodgers had operated at full capacity. If Sunday’s performance is the start of something, Green Bay becomes the clear favorite to win the division and a strong candidate to claim a first-round bye.
Sean Payton is on a heater. In a year flush with strong coach of the year candidates, Payton stands tallest. He faced one of the toughest offseason tasks in getting the Saints to recover from the brutal end to the NFC championship game. He has aced it while also thriving after the loss of Drew Brees, one of the toughest in-season tasks any coach has faced.
With a 36-25 victory in Chicago, the Saints moved to 6-1 overall and 5-0 in games started by backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The New Orleans defense dominated the Bears’ impotent offense aside from a couple of cosmetic fourth-quarter scores, and Payton cooked up a game plan without injured running back Alvin Kamara, the versatile superstar Bridgewater had relied on extensively.
As the Saints controlled the second half, Payton showed off his play-design wizardry with one of the most creative calls you’ll ever see. On third and one, Payton called a handoff to fullback Zach Line. Rather than plowing ahead, Line veered to the right and ran an option play with backup quarterback Taysom Hill, who had lined up as the tailback. Line pitched the ball, and Hill snaked through Chicago’s defense for a 23-yard gain.
The Saints have acquired elite talent through the draft over the past three years, and they are dominant along both lines. With Payton at the controls, they could be the best team in the NFC.
The Indianapolis Colts are not going away. If not for Payton, Frank Reich would lead the pack for coach of the year honors. After losing Andrew Luck to a surprise retirement during the preseason, the Colts stand in first place in the AFC South after seven weeks. They scored a 30-23 victory Sunday over the Houston Texans, their closest divisional competitor, one game after beating Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs on the road, showing that they may still be a contender with Jacoby Brissett under center.
Indy’s next four games come against Denver, Pittsburgh, Miami and Jacksonville, with only the Steelers on the road. By the time the Colts face Houston again Nov. 21, there’s a real chance they could be 8-2.
The worst possible time to evaluate a trade is after one week, but after one week both deals are looking good. In Seattle, Peters intercepted a Russell Wilson pass and returned it for a touchdown, providing the centerpiece of the Ravens’ 30-16 victory and a playmaking boost that Baltimore’s defense needed. In his Rams debut, Ramsey forced a fumble with a big hit on running back Devonta Freeman in a 37-10 trouncing of Atlanta.
Ramsey had sat out the previous three weeks with a specious back injury as he agitated for a trade. He didn’t play the entire game, but he limited Julio Jones to three catches while he covered him. His presence enabled the Rams to shift coverages away from Jones, a luxury almost no teams enjoy. The Rams snapped a three-game losing streak and looked more like a defending Super Bowl entrant. That alone can’t replace two first-round draft picks, but it’s a start.
The Atlanta Falcons are all the way broken. Was it only three seasons ago that the Falcons played in the Super Bowl? It feels like a million. The Falcons won the NFC in 2016 with a promising young core and an entrenched franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan. They have maintained much of that young core with expensive extensions. They had offensive line problems last year but addressed them with two high draft picks. They entered the year as a chic pick to win the NFC South.
Their season has been an unmitigated calamity. After a 37-10 loss at home to the Rams, the Falcons are 1-6. They have been outscored by 78 points, third-worst in the NFL and behind only the Dolphins and Washington Redskins. They have allowed 53, 34 and 37 points in their past three games with Coach Dan Quinn calling plays. Quinn said he believes he hasn’t lost the team, but he’s a strong candidate to become the second coach fired this season, joining Jay Gruden.
How have the Falcons fallen so far, so fast? They could never replace Kyle Shanahan at offensive coordinator. The psychic scars of blowing a 28-3 lead haven’t healed. And as their core has grown more expensive, the Falcons have whiffed on draft picks to supplement those stars cheaply.
Despite those issues, the Falcons have cratered to a degree nobody saw coming. And it may only get worse: Ryan left Sunday’s loss with an ankle injury.
Kliff Kingsbury might know what he’s doing. When the Arizona Cardinals hired an Air Raid aficionado who had been fired by Texas Tech, it raised plenty of eyebrows. When they started 0-3-1, it was easy to dismiss him. But the Cardinals have beaten three bad teams — the Cincinnati Bengals, Falcons and New York Giants — to push their record to 3-3-1, and Kingsbury has shown real signs of capability.
Most impressive — and most promising — has been Kingsbury’s adaptability. Many adherents of extreme spread offenses can be dogmatic about their schemes, which is death in the NFL. Kingsbury is not. After running almost exclusively four-wideout formations in his first two games, Kingsbury has used tight ends more frequently.
He also has been willing to lean on his running game, proving the suggestion that the Air Raid is a pass-only scheme is a fallacy. Sunday, even after starting running back David Johnson went out, the Cardinals bludgeoned the Giants with backup Chase Edmonds, who ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-21 win. Kyler Murray threw only 21 passes as the Cardinals ran 38 times.